December 16, 2016 @ 05:58 PM

Exercising your rights for fast laps

“What’s that exercise ball and yoga mat doing there?” Not your run-of-the-mill track day equipment but Porsche is about to clear it all up

When you’re mentally psyching yourself up for a Porsche driving academy stint at the circuit, some of the to-dos that will cross your mind include driving gloves and some proper shoes with a hankering for some of the purebred performance models being available loitering in the back of your mind.

So it’s understandable when my editor; speaking from experience, nonchalantly informs me that I should put on some loose and comfortable pants for the session.

The expression that darts across the face is a jumble of bafflement and curiosity with a tinge of intrigue; obviously.

“I’m not supposed to tell you because it’s sort of to catch you off guard but there’ll be a short session for physical fitness, a sample of the fitness regimen the drivers have to endure,” he casually divulges.

Strolling into the pit building the next day before the events unfolds, the group is presented with something else that has been unfolded earlier in the morning, yoga mats as well as exercise balls.

Welcome to the Porsche Media Driving Academy people, where Porsche brings some of their finest instructors and nutritionists to educate you on the ideal way to extract the most from their range of cars and lend you an idea of the rigorous training their Le Mans drivers endure to prepare themselves.

Held at the recently-resurfaced Sepang International Circuit, the session marks the second iteration of the academy. The chief principal here is to equip members of the media with the skills and knowledge necessary to not just enjoy the machines from them but understand how they function and be privy to some of the technology that trickles down from their racing endeavours to the road cars.

To do so requires some flogging of their finest on track. But that’s another story for another day, mostly because of the three levels that the academy has in its ranks, the only one that lets you drive ‘em like you stole ‘em is the top-tier Elite. Sitting below it was yours truly in the Professional and serving as the stepping stone into the academy is Individual.

For an in-depth dissection of the three levels, you can have a peek at the sidebar. However, that’s not to say that the Professional level has them reining you in every single time you apply generous force on the throttle but it’s far from spring break on track as well.

Porsche didn’t hold back with the personnel onboard and flew in their finest to brief and educate the members of the media. The first item on the agenda was, as with all activities on track, a briefing.

Taking charge for the day was none other than ace driver and head instructor for the 918 Spyder, Matthias Hoffsummer. He doesn’t share as much of the limelight as some of their works drivers with the recent Le Mans success but just a few minutes with the affable German lends you the impression that he was quite alright with that.

Approachable and earning to share driving tips, Hoffsummer was also the hot shoe behind the wheel of the 918 Spyder during its unofficial lap record of 1:38:02 around the Phillip Island grand prix circuit.

Speaking of Le Mans however, the guest of honour for the day was none other than reigning 24 Hours of Le Mans champion Earl Bamber. The Kiwi was on hand to lend some pointers and annihilate the quickest slalom time of the day to absolutely unidentifiable bits.

Lastly, and completing the holistic approach to performance driving, was Roman Engel, whose name card probably had the coolest designation of the day; Motorsport Sport Science Consultant.

When racing drivers want to go faster, they turn to Engel as much as they turn to practice laps. Having worked with drivers such as Daniel Ricciardo and Sebastian Vettel, Engel knows a thing or two about keeping a driver’s body primed for peak performance on the track.

Any track day always kicks off with a safety briefing and taking the reins for this one was Hoffsummer before offloading the group into the safe hands of Engel.

An exercise ball on a yoga mat next to a 718 Boxster S wasn’t what anyone expected at the start of the day but it was made clear that the top tier of race drivers undergo unique motorsports conditioning for their bodies to deal with the loss of liquids, G-forces and muscle fatigue from being in the claustrophobic confines of a dedicated race car.

Engel demonstrated some exercises to build the core muscles as well as neck muscles. Those G-forces the Porsches pull are quite literally neck-breaking.

Following that, it was back to the regular scheduled programme in relation to a track day.

First up was the all-new 718 Boxster S and an elementary slalom layout that would double-up as a competition between the participants.

A couple of practice runs preceded the two timed runs with a wealth of input from Hoffsummer and Bamber.

The latter even proceeded to demonstrate the timeless virtues of being smooth with minimal input before obliterating the fastest time of the day by around 2-3 seconds. When a complete run takes under 30 seconds, cutting 10 per cent of the time off is quite the feat.

In between runs, Bamber goes on to divulge his favourite model is the 911 GT3 RS and how he clocked in over 3,000km in less than three days on a development unit, much to the chagrin of the development team that lent him the car.

“Well for me, I essentially love to drive and am always happy to jump inside a car and just drive. But what I really like is the closeness between the road car and the race car – this is really nice. Because what one always realises is, even a Porsche road car feels quite like a race car too. Whenever you drive a Porsche you always do it with a smile on your face,” he cooed. He might be on the clock as a works driver, but that smile on the Kiwi’s face was as genuine as it got.

As mentioned earlier, even as the middle of three levels, the Professional tier hardly gets you into a sweat with some of the exercises. From the slalom the group bounced along to the next activity that never fails to generate a feeling of déjà vu for participants of driving clinics.

The moose test and braking exercises is the perfect platform to demonstrates the agility and stability of the Porsches on hand that comprised the Macan, Cayenne, 718 Boxster S and 911 Cabriolet.

Having repeated it a million times, there’s always room for improvement and lines to tighten. Braking is perhaps contradictorily a large slice of the going fast pie and many tend to not help themselves to a healthy serving of it.

Hence, the braking exercises actually help you get the most out of those massive rotors that put a large pizza to shame.

To bring the day to a close, some hot laps were on the cards. However, Mother Nature wasn’t having a particularly pleasant day and decided to rain on our parade; literally.

With a wet surface, the instructors decided that hot initiation laps would have been pushing the envelope a little and perhaps end up with someone initiating into the gravel traps.

Nonetheless, the group still went out for the full laps in an eccentric pack of Porsches consisting of the Macan, Cayenne, 718 Boxster S and 911 Cabriolet to learn the proper racing lines.

Any idiot can drive fast in a straight line but it takes some skill to tackle the turns. Knowing the right racing line is crucial for this and lays the foundation for moving up the ladder to the Elite class when the time comes.

Furthermore, the resurfacing of Sepang has also resulted in some minor tweaking of the lines for a fast lap so it’s essential to brush that off before they let you lose as an Elitist.

There’s so much more to going fast than we realise. It’s never as straightforward as slipping into the driver’s seat and wringing it around as fast as you can.

The modern racing driver is as much a pro athlete as those plying their trade in the upper echelons of sporting arenas. Fitness, conditioning and health in general are as critical as skills behind the wheel.

Porsche set out to elucidate that at the beginning of the day, more than anything else, and they have hit the nail on the head with the driving academy. Now if only class was in session like this all the time.

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